According to the latest zoo census of the International Zoo Yearbook, there are nine replying zoological collections in Brazil (Olney and Fisken, 1995). For a country measuring more than 8.5 million square kilometres (that is about 35 times the size of Great Britain) and counting about 160 million inhabitants, that does not seem to be very many.
But, as the experienced zoo visitor knows, it is the smaller zoos, not listed in the Yearbook's census, that are sometimes the most interesting. The 1993 `census', published by the Sociedade de Zoológicos do Brasil (Society of Brazilian Zoological Gardens), lists 86 replying zoos, housing altogether 34,413 animals. During September/October of 1996 I was able to visit eight of these collections in the company of Dierk Wanke (University of Cologne, Dept. of Botany/Ecology) and Stephan Gantner (University of Tübingen, Dept. of Microbiology) on an expedition that was primarily dedicated to the search for extremely rare water-plants of the genus Echinodorus (Wanke et al., in press).
Thinking about this South American country's zoos, the first one most people have in mind is the Fundação Parque Zoológico de São Paulo, which is definitely one of the most striking and beautiful zoological gardens I have ever been able to visit. Set in a state reserve of coastal rainforest not far from the centre of what is, with about 20 million citizens, one of the three biggest cities in the world (Mexico City and Tokyo being the other two), it presents about 2,700 animals of 366 species (Saliba, 1995) in an area of approximately 204 acres (82 ha). Founded in 1957, São Paulo Zoo does not have to cope with old buildings protected by law. In fact, with the exception of two small houses for reptiles and one for birds, as well as a house presenting the zoo's leaf-cutter ant colony, it does not have to cope with any buildings accessible for visitors at all, as the temperature seldom falls below 0° C. So, compared to e.g. a German or British zoo, it is obvious that the money that is available can largely be spent on outdoor enclosures. Most of the animals are kept in relatively large open paddocks, shaded by the trees of the surrounding forest. Many of the smaller mammals and birds live in exhibits reminding the visitor of rainforest clearings. As the soil of all the enclosures consists of red laterite, which is so typical of Brazil, both the animals and the enclosures have a slightly reddish tinge. Of the larger animals, both African and Asian elephants, a male Indian rhino which has a blue-tiled outdoor pool to bathe in, a pair of common hippos with offspring, as well as Malayan and Brazilian tapirs, are worth mentioning. The hoofstock also include a fine group of Nubian giraffes (Giraffa c. camelopardalis) in a -- for giraffes -- unusually muddy enclosure, and a herd of red brocket (Mazama americana).
From the primatologist's point of view, the park seems to be a little disappointing at first sight. This is because one might expect lots of unusual South American species in this section, but, except for three species of lion tamarin (Leontopithecus rosalia, L. chrysomelas and L. chrysopygus), one is confronted only with rather ordinary brown capuchins (Cebus apella), woolly monkeys (Lagothrix lagotricha) and different species of spider monkey (Ateles spp.). Also, there are lar gibbons and three species of great ape. Nevertheless, the beauty of some of the monkeys' island homes clearly compensates for their lack of unusual inmates.
There is much more to see behind the scenes, but unfortunately this is not accessible to the normal visitor. The zoo's staff includes 70 keepers, 11 biologists and six veterinarians (Saliba, 1995). Every department (mammals, birds and reptiles) has its own house with offices for the section heads as well as quarantine cages and holding areas for surplus animals etc. Here, in the buildings of the mammalian section, are some more unusual primate species -- a white-shouldered marmoset (Callithrix humeralifer), black tufted-eared marmosets of two different subspecies (Callithrix p. penicillata and C. p. kuhlii) and moustached tamarins (Saguinus m. mystax), to name just a few -- kept alongside a row of portable cages with equally fascinating inhabitants: about ten individuals of the southern tamandua (Tamandua tetradactyla) live in them, both adults and juveniles born at the zoo, very active and as interested in the occasional visitor as he is in them.
As I am rather pampered by the zoo of my home town, Cologne, which has had all three species of uakari (Cacajao spp.) during the last decade, with a pair of white uakaris (Cacajao calvus) still remaining, it was a tragedy to hear that São Paulo Zoo gave away their last red uakari (C. rubicundus) to a private collection in southern Brazil some years ago. An even greater disappointment was with the red cock-of-the-rock (Rupicola peruviana), which is extremely rare now in captivity, as, unfortunately, São Paulo's last remaining individual died only one day before our visit, so that we were only able to see two stuffed specimens kept in a cupboard in the bird section.
The São Paulo Zoo was visited by 2.3 million people in 1994 (Saliba, 1995), and as there is nothing indicating a zoo's quality better than its visitor numbers, in a city with a huge percentage of its population living in or near extreme poverty, this figure speaks for itself.